Monthly Archives: February 2011

…Cricket

What’s the news in Bangladesh this week? World Cup Cricket.

Bangladesh is one of three South Asian nations co-sponsoring the 2011 Cricket World Cup, and they couldn’t be more excited. It’s the first international sports tournament ever held here, the local team is doing decently (which is not always true in other years), and the place has been all spiffed up to accommodate tourists and reporters who want to take good pictures and good impressions.

(Don’t ask me to explain the actual game, because I am American, and it’s not cool to understand Cricket. It’s against patriotism or something to understand the game, I might be sent back to Washington for sports re-indoctrination!)

Cricket is not just a source of national pride these days, it’s also a source of national zaniness. Why? Because televised cricket (8 hour long matches) + rolling blackouts = panic. It happens with World Cup Soccer/Football too, and those matches are much shorter….  The government doesn’t want their citizens to miss out on a second of that crazy cricket action. So… they shut down the manufacturing sector on game nights and hope the reduction in power usage by factories will enable all the TVs in Dhaka to keep glowing.

If they didn’t, they might see a repeat of the 2010 Soccer World Cup riots, in which tens of thousands of people took to the streets when the live broadcast was interrupted by power cuts.

hm.

And, just FYI, it’s not working. We’ve still got rolling blackouts. Not to mention the garment manufacturing sector is the only significant economic sector here (80% of exports!), so they’re legitimately protesting the loss of income and wages.

There must be a reason why Dhaka signed a deal this week with Russia to build a nuclear power plant here.

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…Le Souffle

In my ongoing efforts to catalog some of the “places to go in Dhaka” here’s my take on Le Souffle, a French restaurant that is part of the Bellagio group of restaurants. It’s located at the north end of Gulshan Avenue, near the Canadian School and the Pakistani Embassy, in a large white mansion. Le Souffle is on the 2nd floor (counted American style, i.e. not the ground level, but just above). In the same building are a tapas place and a Japanese restaurant. All of these restaurants use imported food and chefs, and are thus considered some of the fanciest places in Bangladesh to eat. Certainly the price point indicates that. The dinner at Le Souffle was not your typical 500t night! It’s more along the lines of a nice dinner in DC, $40 pp.

However, the food was definitely worth the price, certainly for a date night. The food was fresh, bright and served well. We had a prix fixe menu, which included the cute dessert shown above, lamb wrapped in fatty duck, asparagus, carrots, mushroom soup… Many things I can’t even buy here for myself to make a nice dinner with.

The staff were quiet and attentive, though they did leave our empty plates on the table for an extraordinary amount of time after we’d finished eating. I think that may have had to do with the large party we dined with. This would probably not be the same with only a small group. You can BYOB at Le Souffle, I am not sure if they have a wine list (official or under-the-table).

Before our dinner, we were treated to an amusebouche from the Japanese restaurant, a Tuna Shooter, that makes me want to check out that part of Bellagio soon. All in all, it’s worth a repeat visit, it _was_ the nicest place I’ve seen here in Dhaka.


…Swap Boxes

You may remember that I was paired up with Becky at SmallBitsFS for the 2011 Foreign Service Swap Box exchange. She received my Bangladesh care package about a week ago, and gave me overmuch love on her blog post Valentine’s Day…

The box she sent me from Mexico arrived yesterday, slightly worse for wear, complete with the regulation holes and extra tape that many of our DPO shipments arrive with, but everything inside was fine, wrapped in bubble wrap and labeled with informative post-its.

She’d obviously read my blog, because she included a variety of strange candies for me to try, including some mysterious “fruit seasoning,” which looks like it’s just made for a tropical climate. Breadfruit, jackfruit and mangoes, WATCH OUT!

She also included some things for our china cabinet, where we currently display some rather questionable pieces of art. To replace those, we have a cool handpainted plate, a metal star and a pewter flower plate. And, of course, no box from Mexico would be complete without a dancing gourd animal. We can’t decide if this one is an armadillo, a deer-pig, a street dog (it looks like the local street dogs, but better fed), or the mythical cousin of the jackelope. However, he’s a cutie, and destined to sit in Mr. A’s birthday present from me, a display shelf for little critters and statues.

There was also a beautiful glass jar that will be perfect for a candle, especially since we’ve got so many here, but not much to put them in!

All in all, a pretty amazing box, and full of a cool variety things… candy experiments, house decorating, and even somethings for the husband. I am so glad I participated in the Swap!

What a haul, it's amazing you can fit all of that in a flat-rate box.

…the Sundarbans (“beautiful forest”)

 

The flight from Dhaka to Jessore was on Regent Air, complete with sari-ed flight attendants.

The boat creaks at night. Only the most subtle sense of movement and the creaking of wood remind you that you’re on a boat. The sense of movement, the creaking, and the quiet.

At the dock in Mongla, detritus from old ferries.

We slept for three nights in a tiny room with a sloped ceiling that would have been right at home in a black and white movie set in colonial Africa. A pendant lamp hung in one corner–its 10 watt bulb barely illuminating the futon bed. The shutter-like door opened directly onto the bed. To each side, in the teak paneled walls pegs for hanging clothes and towels. The mosquito net was hung each night, though the mosquitoes weren’t a problem. The window was a grate, which tilted out over the water and was covered by a wooden shutter at night.

The deck of our restored teak river boat, the "B613." Contic provided chess, Carom and Othello and a few local interest books. We brought Set, Unexploded Cow, MahJong, Bohnanza, Milles Bournes, Cards.... iPods, DS's, Kindles and Cameras.

Out in the hall, a rush matting kept nighttime steps quiet, as need called someone to the little bathrooms near the kitchen.

Raising the sail

Above, the springy roof of intersecting bamboo was a tempting place to experience the sunrise and moonrise, or bask in the breeze while the boat sailed.

Unfurling the sail.

Our days were spent mostly on the deck, eating, playing games and watching the world go by. The real world, capital-E Earth. On the river, we saw a few people, some fishing, some tourists, like ourselves, but not many, and not often. Only when we stopped at the designated “forest stations” were there many other people, but nothing like Dhaka, and nothing even like the famous national parks in the US.

Sunset at Tiger Point, low tide.

There was kind of a mysterious vagueness about time on our trip. When we first arrived, there was a fear that 4 days with nothing to see but trees and water would drive us to insanity, but we didn’t want to leave, and the days didn’t stretch on. Instead, there was the surprise that it was suddenly time for another meal, surprise that the sun was reaching the horizon, or that the mist of the morning had suddenly become the heat of the afternoon.

Our forest service guard, like many public officers in Bangladesh, carried an old, derelict-looking weapon. I hope he never plans to use it, as it hasn't been maintained in a long time.

In the Sundarbans, you come for the tigers, the crocodiles and the kingfishers. If you’re visiting from abroad, these things are worth seeking. If, however, you’re living in Dhaka, the best part of the trip is the solitude. Go on a small boat tour with a few people you know, people who whisper only loud enough to point out the monkey while the boat rows silently down a canal, people who are willing to play a couple rounds of dominos or mahjong. Go when the noise of Dhaka has made you crazy, go when the dust of Dhaka has coated your lungs and eyes until you can’t even stand to step outside. You’ll enjoy it.

Rowing through a canal in the early morning to catch kingfishers and monkeys as they wake up. There were also many storks and other water-birds, mudskippers, crabs...

Our tour was coordinated by Contic, and is the only tour of the Sundarbans given by sailboat. They offer the tour between November and February, on request. The rest of the year, our boat offers sunset cruises in Dhaka. Contic also arranges day cruises of the rivers around Dhaka on their smaller teak boat, the Fleche D’Or. Other tour operators use traditional river cruise ships, and have a less intimate experience.

Hiking through the jungle near Katka forest station, thankful to have appropriate footwear. Do not rely on flip-flops alone!

Travel from Dhaka is via air to Jessore (30 minutes), and mini-bus to Mongla (2.5 hours).

Interactive map of the Sundarban’s region, showing the clear division between the natural forest and the cultivated surrounds.

Dave‘s 2009 experience on a different boat.

…Examinations and Finishes

Whew, what a week.

You might not know that I’ve been working on a PhD for what seems like my entire life. It’s made me stupider in some ways, smarter (?) in others, and generally convinced that I take criticism wayyyy tooo personally. However, all that self awareness aside, the best part of the PhD is that it is now OVER. Yes, the good news is that I passed my doctoral defense this week with only eeny meeny corrections, and as of 2011, can call myself Doctor Adventure.

(That sounds like a really cheesy character in a comic book).

And, I also took the Foreign Service exam, yet again. Whoo hoo. I think once you take it the 4th time, it’s no longer as exciting. I took it the first time in 2004, and passed, back when the test lasted pretty much all day, and tested a lot more things. Now, the test is shorter, possibly easier (or is it just that I’ve taken it so often I have seen all the questions before?), and graded on a curve such that the top x% of takers “pass” regardless of score. There were some lovely essays to write, multiple choice questions on math, pop culture, American history, world politics… and grammar. YEAH. I heart the grammar section.

Anyway, after this test, there’s an essay to write, and an oral exam/interview/group work evaluation to do, assuming I pass through each hurdle. And, then, you wait on a list of people who qualify for the job for many months, before doing it all again because there are a lot of good candidates, and your number never came up. So, we’ll see where this test takes me.

It would be really nice for the Adventures to be a tandem couple; both of us like to be doing ‘important things.’ Let’s hope DoS thinks we should be one too.

…Evacuations

One of the perks (?) of Foreign Service life is that the government does a great job of taking care of you when things abroad become less than ideal. In the case of Egypt, the FS community evacuated in two waves.

So, though things in Dhaka are just at dhaka-normal right now, I am learning a lot of about evacs from the experiences of others, and I thought I’d share two sources of news with you: A first person account of the experience, including diary entries from the days before, during, and after the evac are at Sherwood Family Nonsense. There are notes on evacs of due to cartel violence in Mexico at my blog-swap partner’s SmallBits blog, linked in the blogroll to the right.

Evacs are also possible for medical reasons, including emergencies, pregnancies, and things beyond the care of the local medical options. But, no one has been writing much about those in the last week or so…. so no links for you. 🙂

Anyway, I’m back to panicking about my forthcoming dissertation defense, wish me luck!